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5 Things You Didn't Know About Masturbation

WebMD explores common concerns women have about masturbation and self-pleasure.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Marina Katz, MD

Although men may joke and tease each other about their solo sexual activity, women are typically less forthcoming about their own self-pleasuring. With a very close friend, some may compare notes discretely about the best vibrators or the stress relief going solo can provide.

But women's masturbation is not generally a common topic of conversation among girlfriends. Maybe it should be, say sex therapists. They point out that women's masturbation can have benefits both for health and relationships. Here are five things about masturbation women may not know:

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1. "Normal" masturbation in women takes many forms.

Most women, like men, have masturbated at least once in their lives, research suggests. Frequency varies, and there's no "normal" for that. There's no ''normal" cutoff age, either, with the practice continuing into the 80s and beyond.

Women may feel guilty about it, especially if they are in a committed relationship, but there’s no need for guilt, sex therapists say. Sometimes a partner could just be tired, out of town, or otherwise unavailable. 

There is no one "method" of masturbation in women that's normal. "A range of ways is 'normal,''' says Paul Joannides, PsyD, a psychoanalyst in Waldport, Ore.

Fingers and vibrators are two common methods of women's masturbation. More than half of 2,056 women, aged 18 to 60, used a vibrator either during masturbation or intercourse, says Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, Bloomington, who led the survey.

Other women who masturbate report they use the back of a vibrating toothbrush head, the handle of a hairbrush, or water jets in the bathtub, Joannides says.

Although some experts worry about side effects from vibrator use, such as genital numbness or pain, less than 30% of the women in Herbenick's vibrator survey said they had experienced them.

But another expert, Frank Sommers, MD, a Toronto psychiatrist, worries that excessive vibrator use during masturbation could desensitize women to orgasms with a partner. “I tell my patients, ‘Look on a vibrator as whipped cream -- you wouldn’t want to eat it every day.’’’

He believes too much vibrator use ‘’habituates your autonomic nervous system to such stimulation that a human could not duplicate it.”

2. Masturbation can improve your mood -- without the ''obligations'' of partnered sex.

However a woman chooses to masturbate, it can improve her spirits. "It can improve a depressed mood," says Kathleen Segraves, PhD, a sex therapist and associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University and a therapist at Metrohealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. "Not clinical depression, but the 'blue funk' days."

"With solo sex, there is no distraction, and you can focus on your own experience without making sure someone else is having a good time," she says.

It doesn't mean you don't love your partner, maybe just that you need to think only about yourself sometimes, experts say. "The woman doesn't have to be outside her head, wondering, 'Am I taking too long?'" Segraves says.

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